Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero rally Man City past upset-minded Bristol
Manchester City transported their fans back to the good old days in a sloppy and dishevelled display against battling Bristol City. That they escaped with a one-goal lead to take to the West Country for the second leg was fortuitous to say the least, with Sergio Aguero's deft header deflating a fine away performance.
Pep Guardiola's side dug out a win from somewhere deep inside themselves to keep the trophy hunt intact and move the unbeaten domestic run forward to 33. That they have had such problems with Wolves, Leicester and now Bristol City in this competition poses one or two questions about the fringe players that have deputised during the cup run, with only Oleksandr Zinchenko showing up well here.
A wobbly backline, a midfield asleep for long periods and neither thrust nor invention going forward. Was this a side with Liverpool on their minds (this weekend's Premier League opponents), one thinking they could win at a canter, or was this the gentle seeping continuation of a dip in form that was seen at Crystal Palace and again in a sleepy first half in the FA Cup against Burnley? We will find out at the weekend.
Manager Rating out of 10
7 -- In hindsight, Guardiola perhaps chose to rest too many key players, leaving City pedestrian in midfield, rickety in defence and toothless upfront.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Claudio Bravo, 7 -- First few minutes were comfortable enough with some good clean handling, but had to watch his defenders dance the fandango in front of him, leading to a penalty that he could not quite reach. Brilliant ball down the centre to set Kevin De Bruyne free for the equaliser.
DF Danilo, 6 -- Drifted around to no great effect, first at right-back, then later on the other side, when Kyle Walker joined the fray. Played an active part in the occasional defensive shambles.
DF John Stones, 6 -- Looked wobbly and nervous alongside Eliaquim Mangala and was directly responsible for the penalty when his tackle took Bobby Reid's legs and not the ball. Had just cleared a previous shot with his nose, so might have been seeing stars at the time.
DF Eliaquim Mangala, 5 -- Painting the Frenchman's nervous performance as anything other than a disaster waiting to happen would be mendacious. Trickled simple balls into touch, was caught dallying for the penalty and tested his goalkeeper with one or two supersonic back passes.
DF Oleksandr Zinchenko, 7 -- Best of a confused bunch at the back, often slipping inside to sit alongside the lumbering Yaya Toure in defensive midfield. This gave him better angles to find Leroy Sane on the left wing, in what proved to be a futile attempt to open up the visitors.
MF Yaya Toure, 5 -- The old general walks with a spot of gout these days, the creaking limbs finally showing signs of the many battles he has fought in City's name. Much reduced in output, to the extent that he was first to be pulled in the 70th minute.
MF Ilkay Gundogan, 6 -- Five shots floated high and wide as the German failed to find his range. Busy enough in midfield, but not able to provide the spark that the others were waiting for.
MF Bernardo Silva, 6 -- So left-footed that he refused to shoot with his right when presented with an opening and, later, when it happened again, his shot was so weak, it was not clear whether it was just a badly directed pass or not. Finally pulled a pass out of the top drawer to find Sergio Aguero's head for the last-gasp winner.
MF Leroy Sane, 6 -- Another one who spent the evening taking the wrong decisions. Spotted a point just beyond the far post and shot at it all night.
MF, Kevin De Bruyne, 8 -- Once again the chief focus of City's hopes, even he found the going tough. Searing run and clever shot from Sterling's lay-back produced the equaliser and the Belgian was the only catalyst for changes of pace City could rely on.
FW Raheem Sterling, 7 -- In the quiet zone for the first half as City concentrated on the left flank and he nominally led the line, but worked the Bristol defence with more success after the break. Reluctant to shoot when offered the chance, occasionally ruining potentially fruitful attacks.
FW Sergio Aguero, 6 -- Came on for Yaya Toure after 69 minutes, but did not touch the ball for 10 minutes. Playing in a packed area, his only meaningful contribution was to head in Bernardo's cross for the 92nd-minute winner. That's 19 for the season.
DF Kyle Walker, NR -- Appeared after 79 minutes to replace Zinchenko. Sped up the wing with such intent, he looked like he was taking part in a different game to the one the rest of us were watching
Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.